The Shoe’s On The Other Foot – What Do I Look For In Freelance Writers?

A blue magnifying glass on a grey background

In just a couple of years I’ve gone from being the freelance writer looking for jobs to the company looking for freelance writers, giving me the ability to discuss both sides of the coin.

It hit me the other day that I’ve basically exceeded all plans, ideas, goals, expectations – whatever you want to call them – about my freelance writing career.

Having fallen into the industry several years ago, I’ve continually developed. Reading an excessive amount of blogs, taking as much advice as I could get and ensuring I’ve alway been writing, I’ll be the first to admit it has been a pain in the backside at times, but it has made for a couple of interesting years.

And arguably most importantly, it has got me to where I am today, a SEO Specialist for a burgeoning digital media agency, with a considerably strong focus on unique, high quality content.

With my role comes the opportunity to hire freelance writers. It’s a little strange, actually – I’m now in the scenario I was in just a few years ago, just rather than being the writer looking for work, I’m the agency looking for a writer.

Giving me the opportunity to speak to an array of different writers, I’ve come to realise that in one hand, I’m looking for specific qualities in a writer, but in another I’m not looking for anything that I personally believe is unusual.

So, what is it that I’m actually after in a freelance writer?

First thing’s first – they need to be able to write.

This may sound like a really, really (really!) basic and obvious point, but you’d be surprised at how many ‘writers’ I talk to who don’t seem to have a grip of standard grammar.

OK, they may have sent me a draft file by mistake, but that leads me into my second point perfectly – I want a writer who’s going to take pride in their work.

I don’t want someone who’s going to just write everything I need them to in 10 minutes. I know as much as they do that it’s going to be littered with errors if they do.

Sure, getting paid is important and the quicker the work gets done, the quicker you’ll get paid, but think of the long term – deliver quality work that you’re proud of and I’ll have zero reason to look elsewhere.

Something else I’m finding is important is having a basic understanding of SEO.

In today’s world, I strongly believe all writers need to understand, at the very least, the basics of search engine optimisation.

I’m not asking for writers to be able to hold an in-depth conversation about the latest techniques and practices, but an understanding of the importance of title tags when using links, for example, wouldn’t go a miss at all.

Oh and an ability to follow instructions would be hugely appreciated.

Again, this might sound obvious, but if I’m looking for a blog post that’s at least 400 words long, please make sure it is. Similarly, if I need to have an exact phrase included within the copy, don’t change it to suit your writing – change your writing to suit the phrase.

In all honestly, it’s a bit weird being in the position I’m in now, but it’s good as it means I can help writers grow and develop by looking at both sides of the coin.

It is important to understand that the qualities I’m looking for are for a writer in my current position and aren’t necessarily universal – but saying that, I genuinely believe the points here would help any writer secure new gigs, no matter who they were looking to work with, as at the end of the day, it all simply comes back to delivering the highest quality service as a writer that you possibly can.

About Dan Smith

Dan Smith is a seasoned freelance writer, currently working as the SEO Specialist for digital media agency Zine.  With a strong focus on developing strategies that are based heavily on high quality content, Dan always has one eye on the customer experience and has a distinct (dis)ability of being unable to say no.


  1. Funny, isn’t it? Sometimes you just assume that your own standards are so obvious that they’re shared by everyone, and it can be a real surprise to find out they’re not. I recently got a cold email from someone asking me for work. They attached a portfolio and everything…and ended their email ‘Thanx’.

    I still can’t believe that somebody would ask a copywriter for writing work, and then not even use proper English in an email.

  2. Very intriguing post. I have one blog where I accept guest posts and I’m astounded at how many badly written introduction letters I get. I’m not as shocked anymore that so many of those people haven’t looked at my guest posting policy because more than 80% of them don’t follow even the simplest request I’ve given them. And then some of what I receive… I’ve made a rule that says if I have to make more than 3 edits I’m not touching it. And I don’t ask anyone to guest post; they all volunteer.

  3. Good luck, Dan. I have subcontracted to writers since 2007 and have worked with some amazing and talented writers. I’ve also worked with total duds, too! I’d suggest a few small projects with padded deadlines when you’re starting to work with someone new before you begin to trust. I’d also Google the writers, too. Beyond looking at the samples they provide to you, doing a search online to see what they’re about can be eye-opening! I also like to do an application test in my job posting to see if people can follow simple instructions. Oh… and Copyscape their first few projects, too, to make sure they’re not plagiarising! It takes a while to build trust and I’ve had some near misses where my using Copyscape has saved me from possibly losing a client.

  4. I’m in a similar position Dan. I know you know that, as you’ve written for a couple of my sites. For me the biggest thing I look for other than basic writing ability and subject matter knowledge is the writer’s ability to work independently.

    I hire people to help out because I simply don’t have the time to write all the content for all of my company’s Web properties. I have to handle the dev and marketing sides, I’m working on manuscripts, and I have my own client work to deal with. So I can’t hand-hold.

    I’ve been lucky. I’ve had a good team from the start. I can trust them to come up with relevant topics on their own and to get their posts saved on time for me to handle my end of things. That’s what I need most. I like giving people freedom and flexibility rather than having to be overly rigid and structured all the time. And so far it’s working out well.

    I’m a little more hands-on when I have my assistant write posts for some of my blogs, but she’s still new to this. So I’m hoping to instill good habits (like the SEO skills you mentioned) early on.

    Great topic Dan!

  5. I am taking an online blogging course in order to make my blog more attractive to aspiring writers and to let me learn all about the writing business, too.

    I have written two articles for a content mill, and tips that I have received from other writers claim that I should be able to churn out 3 articles per hour. Not yet for me! I agree that writers should only turn in a quality product, or not turn it in at all.